No, Vanity Fair, The Port Authority's Troubles Didn't Begin With Chris Christie and George Pataki

The Holland Tunnel, which is owned and run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey |||In his new Vanity Fair investigation of the George Washington Bridge lane closure debacle and what it means for the presidential ambitions of Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.), journalist Bryan Burrough depicts the Port Authority, the government agency at the center of the scandal, as once a "model of urban-planning professionalism" that successfully fended off "periodic attempts at political meddling by various New York and New Jersey governors.” This successful technocracy was "undone," Burroughs would have us believe, "in 1995, when New York’s governor, George Pataki, nominated one of his backers, an investment banker from Queens with virtually no managerial experience, as the Port Authority’s executive director…"

George Marlin (the "investment banker from Queens," who Burroughs oddly doesn’t name) made enemies of veteran Port Authority staffers (key sources for Burrough’s piece) in part because he tried to tame the agency’s large bureaucracy and wasteful spending practices. The Port Authorty was no model agency in 1995. The year after Marlin took over, for example, the agency (tasked with running bridges, tunnels, airports, and shipping facilities) finally started selling off its 1,320-piece art collection, including a de Kooning that fetched $15.6 million at a Christie's auction. Marlin probably wasn't the best choice to lead the Port Authority, but his withering 2006 attack on his former political backer (Squandered Opportunities: New York's Pataki Years) demonstrated that he was no run-of-the-mill lackey.

Burrough’s view that the Port Authority was a "model of urban-planning professionalism" successfully warding off meddlesome politicians until Pataki ruined it all is profoundly myopic. To take one example: In the 1960s and 70s, the governors of New York and New Jersey constantly meddled with the Port Authority in a battle to get the agency to invest in mass transit, which was politically popular but outside its mission. In 1969, Gov. William Cahill (R-N.J.) forced the retirement of long-time Port Authority Executive Director Austin Tobin because of his resistance to building rail transit. Gov. Nelson Rockefeller (R-N.Y.), who also wanted to change the agency’s focus from "rubber to…rails," backed as Tobin’s replacement William Ronan, who was far more detrimental to the Port Authority than George Marlin. In 1977, after years of mismanagement by Ronan, the agency was embroiled in scandal. The New York State Comptrollers Office accused the Port Authority of "extravagancy at public expense" in a blistering report. One long-time staffer committed suicide.

In 1960, the Port Authority made its biggest mistake—signing on to Gov. Rockefeller’s plan to build a massive office complex in lower Manhattan that became the World Trade Center—in part to distract from mounting political pressure to invest in mass transit, according to Michael N. Danielson and Jameson W. Doig’s New York: The Politics of Urban Regional Development.

As I argued in my feature story, "Port Authoritarians," in the May 2014 issue of Reason, public authorities were created with the intention of empowering technocrats to make wise decisions shielded from political concerns. It didn’t work out that way. You can’t pin it all on Chris Christie and George Pataki.

(An earlier version of this post mistakenly tagged Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, THE Rockefeller Republican, as a Democrat.)

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Brandon||

    The large bureaucracy and wasteful spending practices were what made it a model of urban-planning professionalism. The professional parasite class has a very different view of what is ideal for an agency than we do.

  • Atanarjuat||

    Best thing I read today. From a high school classmate's FB:

    It's a common fantasy to make love under a waterfall in some majestic wonderland. I masturbated in a Chevron carwash today with a coconut scented air freshener around my neck.
  • Ted S.||

    That's child porn!

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Only cool if there is no car involved and the wash is running.

  • WTF||

    Shriek speaks from experience.

  • WTF||

    Gov. Nelson Rockefeller’s (D-N.Y.)

    Rockefeller was a Republican.

  • John||

    It is only the revolutionary facts that matter.

  • MegaloMonocle||

    You gotta admit, calling Rockefeller a Democrat is kinda truthy.

  • WTF||

    He was a liberal, progressive douche, but he was also a Republican.

  • ||

    He was a liberal, progressive douche,...



    IOW, he was a typical northeastern Republican of his era. The fact that America's historical memory is exceedingly short is demonstrated by the fact that none seems to remember what the Republican party was like pre-1964 and Barry Goldwater.

    See also the number of people who identify Nixon as a "conservative".

    Until Barry Goldwater challenged the status quo in the late 50s early 60s the prevailing political ethos in both parties was "American Managerial Liberalism". This meant that most elections were decided on which candidate could convince the public that he would be better at solving all the world's problems by the application of government power.

    "American Managerial Liberalism" had its origins with Alexander Hamilton so it as old as the Republic itself. For the most part Jeffersonian Democrats held it at bay until the early 20th century (except for things like the railroad building binge) so it found its expression moistly at the state level and New York was the prime example of it.

  • WTF||

    It's like Jim Epstein never heard the term "Rockefeller Republicans".

  • WTF||

    I see he's corrected it. Thanks, Jim!

  • Robert||

    it found its expression moistly at the state level


    Dipping their beaks, of course.

  • John||

    Burrough’s view that the Port Authority was a "model of urban-planning professionalism"

    You mean like when they wanted to demolish most of Chinatown and Little Italy to build a highway? Robert Moses is by far the most controversial figure in the history of American urban planning. No one with even a shallow knowledge of the history of New York or urban planning in this country would say something like that. How could anyone be this stupid?

    This kind of ignorance transcends politics. It is not about what you think of George Pataki or Chris Christie or anything else. It is about having even a base knowledge about what you are writing about. The fact is most journalists are just ignorant and know virtually nothing about the subjects they write about. If they had any sense of shame, they would be embarrassed rather than thinking they are top men whose opinions should matter more than the rest of our opinions.

  • WTF||

    Moses's critics claim that he preferred automobiles to people. They point out that he displaced hundreds of thousands of residents in New York City, destroying traditional neighborhoods by building expressways through them. That contributed to the ruin of the South Bronx and the amusement parks of Coney Island, caused the departure of the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants Major League baseball teams, and precipitated the decline of public transport due to disinvestment and neglect. His building of expressways hindered the proposed expansion of the New York City Subway from the 1930s well into the 1960s, because the parkways and expressways that were built served, at least to some extent, the purpose of the planned subway lines; the 1968 Program for Action, which was never completed was hoped to counter this.
  • Rhywun||

    You mean like when they wanted to demolish most of Chinatown and Little Italy to build a highway?

    The PA didn't have anything to do with that, or most of Moses' projects. The two fiefdoms were largely separate.

  • WTF||

    I don't want to speak for John, but I think he was just pointing out the actual results and implementation of classic urban planning.

  • Rhywun||

    Could be - in which case ITA.

  • Rhywun||

    The only "planning" project that comes to mind with the PA was the WTC - which was indeed some of the worst, city-hating crap the sixties had to offer.

    Mostly they just manage facilities like seaports, airports, bridges , and one railroad.

  • John||

    But he ruled them both.

  • Ted S.||

    I went through the Port Authority bus terminal on several occasions in the mid-90s. It was an absolute shithole.

  • WTF||

    You should have seen it in the 70s and 80s.

  • ||

    It seemed OK (by bus station standards) in 1965 which was the last time I was there.

  • WTF||

    It really went to shit in the 1970s and remained a dangerous filthy shithole through the 1980s. Didn't start to turn around until the mid 90s after Giuliani's election.

  • Rhywun||

    Yeah I used to go through there all the time in the 2000's and besides being a little cramped it was no better or worse than any bus station anywhere.

  • ||

    The Port Authority Terminal notwithstanding if you travel by bus you will see America as it truly is.

  • GILMORE||

    *full of ex-cons*

    Go Greyhound!

  • ||

    :)

  • GILMORE||

    "
    WTF|7.9.14 @ 2:16PM|#

    You should have seen it in the 70s and 80s."

    ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^THIS

    I suspect the peak/nadir of the Bus terminal's rancidness was sometime mid-80s.

    It was *legendary*

    even the port authority terminal (34th & 7th, vs. 42nd & 9th for the bus station) at its peak of 'homeless-shelterness' in the 80s was *preferable* to the bus station.

    I honestly think there were cases where people died while sitting on the floor there, and no one noticed for a few days.

    It was the kind of place where you felt you could catch AIDS by breathing.

    I did a quick google of "Port Authority Bus Station" and "filthy homeless" and got this =

    http://www.popcenter.org/libra.....Felson.pdf

    A paper on how they tried to renovate the place in 1991-1992. Titled, "Redesigning Hell"

    The bottom half of page 6 has a nice summary of the Mad Max level of degeneracy it achieved. (cant paste)

  • GILMORE||

    e.g. 'Distinguishing the Port Authority Terminal from others was the fact that several hundred homeless people had, t o various degrees, moved in. Dozens slept day and night, singly or in groups, on or besides stairs, bus gates, benches or in various interstitial areas. They did more than block a few routes; they openly took over whole sections. Some set up homes above the bus gates. Many installed electrical appliances and cooked meals. Inside the bus station, people had sex, shot heroin, gave birth and died. People urinated on walls an d in elevators. Transients took over restrooms. Some fought and even killed over turf or other issues. Some lived there all the time, and others moved back and forth between street and bus station. These transients upset suburban users and contributed to the terrible reputation of the station in New York, New Jersey and beyond. "

  • some guy||

    Sounds like the international terminal at Newark after a snowstorm...

  • GILMORE||

    Maybe if the snowstorm lasted a few years. And it interrupted a 'murderous gay-prostitute' convention.

  • Rhywun||

    Every once in a while some hipster douchebag mourns the lost glory days of 70s NYC and I want to sock them in the goddamn face.

  • GILMORE||

    Its always heartwarming to see some young kid with a "Die Yuppie Scum" t-shirt drinking a $10 bloody mary at a cafe that used to be in a working class puerto rican neighborhood.

  • Rhywun||

    transients upset suburban users

    Yeah, I'm sure city residents were just thrilled with the conditions.

  • MJGreen||

    It's a lot more pleasant to stand on the city street and wait for the Chinatown bus to arrive.

  • some guy||

    Is that still legal?

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    No, Vanity Fair, The Port Authority's Troubles Didn't Begin With Chris Christie and George Pataki

    The VA, IRS, gun-running, and embassy "scandals" did not begin with Obama either.

    We need a moratorium on fake scandals.

  • WTF||

    Don't lock eyes with 'em, don't do it. Puts 'em on edge. They might go into berzerker mode; come at you like a whirling dervish, all fists and elbows. You might be screaming "No, no, no" and all they hear is "Who wants cake?" Let me tell you something: They all do. They all want cake.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Oh, I forgot about the fake scandal on the border.

    Someone just noticed that we have no border fence in Texass? WRITE IT UP!

  • WTF||

    BUSHPIGS!!11!!!!CHRISTFAGS!!11!!!!!!

  • SugarFree||

  • WTF||

    Nice!

  • SugarFree||

    Made it this morning. Thanks for the excuse to use it.

  • Rhywun||

    My god, the tears on display during yesterday's match were epic.

  • some guy||

    Were they crying over the epic loss of a soccer match, or the epic loss of capital and productivity in their country?

  • Rhywun||

    Please, some perspective is in order. The soccer match, of course.

  • Ted S.||

  • The Tone Police||

    "Be careful! If provoked he could fly into a rage with the strength of an ape and no remorse, not even a bullet could bring 'im down."

  • GILMORE||

    The logic! All things originate and end during republican administrations! And anyone who thinks otherwise *is a partisan extremist!*

  • some guy||

    Except the things that are (temporarily) viewed as being "good" at this very moment. Those all did not begin during republican admins.

  • GILMORE||

    "Burrough’s view that the Port Authority was a "model of urban-planning professionalism" successfully warding off meddlesome politicians until [INSERT REPUBLICAN] ruined it all is profoundly myopic boringly predictable."

    By (surprising?) contrast, the VA was a complete disaster when it was handed to Obama, who *struggled Nobly* to reform this institution, only to fail due to congressional intransigence and budget-strangling by the heartless Extremist conservatives!

    Being a political writer is hard! All these *templates* to maintain!?

  • AD-RtR/OS!||

    I blame Robert Moses.

  • TCMann||

    Ummm... did anyone actually read the NY Times article. The Port Authority did not auction off a de Kooning. The article talks about how none of the artwork in the Port Authority's collection would 'fetch anywhere near' the $ 15.6 million.

    Still - the Port Authority has sucked for a long time.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Video Game Nation: How gaming is making America freer – and more fun.
  • Matt Welch: How the left turned against free speech.
  • Nothing Left to Cut? Congress can’t live within their means.
  • And much more.

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement